Teaching each other

New day care mixes ages to let children learn from seniors
by: Contributed Photo, MODEL-PERFECT FAMILY — The brochure promoting Gentog’s intergenerational approach to day care includes a photo of Marcie Jones’ son, Alex, and her late grandfather, Elwin “Pop” Mandigo.

TIGARD - Imagine an innovative style of day care where seniors and kids interact and learn from each other.

If you can't have a real grandparent nearby, the next best alternative is a substitute, and that is what Marcie Jones and Muriel (Murt) Bickett plan to offer when their new business, Gentog, opens for business April 9 in the Willowbrook center.

The company co-presidents, who worked together for more than 25 years at a credit reporting company, are opening a day care business for seniors in addition to children between the ages of 3 and 5.

Due to their long friendship and working literally side by side since 1993, 'we know we can work together,' Jones said. 'We wanted to change careers to one that would make a difference in the world. We did research and got the idea for an intergenerational day care.

'It's a new concept in Oregon. Even day care for adults is not common, although it started on the East Coast 20 years ago. But we've had lots of favorable comments on our plan.'

Last July, the two friends embarked on a long search for the perfect location. 'We took long lunches and drove around, but many commercial properties didn't want a day care business,' Bickett said.

With Jones living in Beaverton and Bickett living in Lake Oswego, finding a site in Tigard turned out to be the perfect central location.

In December they signed a lease for three adjoining suites totaling 7,100 square feet in Willowbrook, which is located at the intersection of Pacific Highway and Durham Road. As an added bonus, all the rear and end windows look out on trees and shrubbery.

'We think it will be great,' Jones said. 'It's the end three suites, and we tore down a few walls. One side is for seniors, the other side is for the kids, and the entrance and common area will be in the middle. The seniors will be able to look out at the kids if they want.'

As people enter the door in the main suite, they will be greeted by a receptionist and sign in. The large, homey room features an electric fireplace with seating around it.

'I remember my grandma always liked to sit in front of a fire,' Jones said.

'When people walk in the front door, we want them to feel at home.'

At the rear of the entrance area is what the women call 'the café,' with a low wall so seniors can sit and watch people coming and going while out of the hustle and bustle.

The senior side includes a large sitting room with comfortable furniture 'that looks like grandma's living room,' said Jones.

The area also has a library complete with televison, computers, games and books, a 'sick room' with a bed if seniors need to lie down, a restroom and an office.

There also is a spa that contains a Jacuzzi, shower and walk-in tub that meets the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

One of the most unique features of the senior side is an enclosed solarium along the front of the building with large windows, so it feels like a front porch complete with flower boxes along the windows for gardening projects.

On the kids' side is a large childcare room, and at the rear is what Bickett and Jones call 'the messy room' that will be used for lunch, art projects and similar activities. There also is a restroom and office.

The city of Tigard is allowing Gentog to use five parking spaces in front of the senior side of the facility for an outdoor playground, and the kids will walk through the senior solarium to reach the playground.

Except for the occasional parade of kids through the solarium, the whole set-up allows the 'oldsters' to remain separate from the youngsters if they wish, but interacting is always an option.

'Kids love to listen to adults talk and talk,' Jones said. 'It's a beautiful thing to watch. Seniors still have a lot to give, and they want to contribute to society.'

Gentog will be open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Bickett and Jones had no problem figuring out between them who would do which jobs.

Bickett is a morning person and loves children, so she will open the business and manage the children's side; Jones loves working with seniors and is not a morning person, so she will come in later, manage the senior side and close the business.

Jones explained, 'Murt will make breakfast, and I'll do the floors,' joking, 'I'm not sure if that is fair!'

Bickett added, 'The staff we've hired is passionate about the intergenerational concept. We've hired staff for each side, but we will cross-train them, and the majority are certified nursing assistants.

'We'll meet all the state requirements for staffing ratios. Our maximum will be 40 seniors and 40 kids. We've hired two staff members for each side to start, and we'll add staff as our numbers grow.'

Gentog will even provide transportation if needed and eventually will take people to and from medical appointments.

As part of making the place seem like home, birthdays - whether people are turning 4 or 90 years old - will be celebrated.

Bickett and Jones said that Gentog is Christian-based, but people of any faith are welcome. They've already got their own interfaith connection going - Jones is Catholic and attends St. Anthony's Church in Tigard, and Bickett is Lutheran.

They also got a heavenly sign after they toured the space for the first time: 'When we walked out, we saw a rainbow,' Jones said. 'That was our sign - that's why we have it on our business cards.'

In addition to joining several associations related to day care, Bickett and Jones have joined the Tigard Area Chamber of Commerce, which will hold a grand opening ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday, April 9, at noon.

Gentog is at 11535 S.W. Durham Road, Suite C5. For more information, visit www.gentog.com or call 503-639-2600.